Gumshoe
  • Genre:
    • Light Gun Shooter
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    NES
    • US August 1986
    • UK 06/15/1988
    Arcade
    • US 1987
Score: 40%

This review was published on 10/06/2016.

Gumshoe is a light gun shooter video game published and developed by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was originally released in North America in August 1986, Asia in 1986, and Europe on June 15, 1988. There was also an arcade version of the game named Vs. Gumshoe released in North America in 1987. As with Duck Hunt, Wild Gunman, and Hogan's Alley, this game uses an NES accessory called the NES Zapper instead of a regular controller. The NES Zapper is basically a controller shaped like a ray gun that enables players to shoot virtual targets inside the video game by actually pointing the gun at the television screen in the real world! Regrettably, it only works on CRT televisions, but that wasn't a problem in the late 1980s. Anyway, Gumshoe is a very peculiar game that not very many people know about. There's a good reason for that: it's not exactly the greatest.

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The game's story follows a man named Mr. Stevenson. Stevenson used to be an FBI agent, but now he works alone as a private detective. He often finds gum on his shoe. During one unfortunate day, Stevenson receives a ransom note from a mafia boss named King Dom. According to the note, King Dom claims to have kidnapped Stevenson's daughter, Jennifer. The malicious mafia boss states that Stevenson must bring him the five "Black Panther Diamonds" within 24 hours if he wants to see his daughter again. The other stipulation is that Stevenson must come alone. Having no other choice, Stevenson agrees to the demands. Well, I mean, he could have called the cops, but he decided to take matters into his own hands. That's always what you should do in these kinds of situations. At any rate, you must help Stevenson rescue his only daughter. If you don't, then that's on you.

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This is a weird game. It's like a cross between a side-scrolling platformer and a light gun shooter. Here's how it works: Stevenson begins from the left side of the screen and automatically walks to the right on his own. You then shoot him with the NES Zapper to make him jump over obstacles and pits. Doing this doesn't hurt the guy, so don't you worry about it. It's also possible to make him jump repeatedly in the air by continuously shooting him. There are no limitations to this, which essentially gives Stevenson unlimited jumping ability. If Stevenson runs into a wall, he'll turn around and move in the opposite direction until he bumps into something else, or you shoot him again. You can't do any real backtracking, however, as the screen won't scroll left. Timing the jumps with this odd system is fairly difficult, especially since you have to constantly aim the gun at Stevenson's tiny sprite as it darts around the screen. This becomes truly troublesome whenever Stevenson bumps his head beneath a platform, because this causes him to quickly plummet downwards, giving you very little time to react. In other words, the controls are awful.

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While your bullets don't hurt Stevenson, they do hurt and destroy other things. This means that it's your job to keep Stevenson safe by shooting down harmful enemies and objects that get in his way. These things include stuff like flying liquor bottles, big boulders, deadly birds, and even cars. You have limited ammo, but it can be refilled by having Stevenson pick up balloons, of which there are plenty. Also, shooting Stevenson himself doesn't waste ammo, but shooting anything else does. You also waste bullets if you miss. Stevenson dies in only one hit, so you have to have a quick trigger finger and good aim to ensure his survival. That is particularly problematic, because the sprites you have to shoot are usually really small and really fast. You never quite feel in control of Stevenson, almost like the game is one big escort mission. Basically, it's like you're babysitting him. I don't know about you, but babysitting a full grown man isn't my idea of fun.

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In addition to the balloons, there are a couple of other items and power-ups Stevenson can grab. The other power-ups are gotten from feathered foes the manual refers to as "Lucky Birds." Whenever you shoot one of these little guys down, they may drop something helpful. Usually they drop roast chicken, which merely gives you points, but sometimes they'll drop stuff like potions that allow Stevenson to take an extra hit before dying, helmets that make him immune to falling rocks, and special shoes that make him impervious to the flashing skull blocks. That last one is extremely useful, because every stage in the game is littered with those annoying death blocks. Speaking of, that's a lazy gimmick. I mean, death blocks? Couldn't they have come up with something more creative than that? In any case, the power-ups are useful, but you don't get them often enough. Further adding insult to injury, power-ups have a habit of falling off screen before you can even grab them. It's like the game is taunting you.

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There are four stages total and you have six in-game hours, which translate to six minutes in real time, to complete each one of them. In order to complete a stage, you must keep traveling to the right until you successfully acquire the Black Panther Diamond, and then make it to the goal at the end. If you happen to miss the diamond, the stage will continue looping until you get it, which is where the time limit becomes a concern. The final stage is the only one with two diamonds. Luckily, the diamonds are always directly in your path, so getting them is the least of your troubles. The most of your troubles will revolve around the scattershot stage design. Many enemies and hazards appear at random intervals, particularly those annoying liquor bottles. They tend to show up if you stick to one horizontal plane for too long, and they hound you for basically the whole game. Later on, the stages force you to do precision platforming while also throwing tons of enemies your way. Considering the obtuse control scheme, this quickly becomes overwhelming and results in a highly frustrating experience.

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Back when this game came out, Nintendo was still going through a highly experimental phase. They were attempting all kinds of crazy concepts, some of which worked, and some of which didn't. This game is a good example of the latter. Combining a side-scrolling platformer with a light gun shooter is an interesting concept to be sure, but whether that's actually a good idea is another matter entirely. Regardless, this game certainly doesn't make a good case for it. Due to the ridiculous control scheme and frustrating level design, playing this game is like a form of torture. Unless you're a masochist, you should avoid this one.

Word Count: 1,156

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